I was single, and living in an apartment on East Fifty-Fifth Street in walking distance to the office of McKinsey, where I worked as a researcher in their library. I loved my job, my apartment, and my social life. I thought I had everything I needed or wanted to be happy. But one Saturday afternoon on my way home from Bloomingdales, I paused, as I often did, to look at the puppies in a Lexington Avenue pet store window. They were all adorable, but one—a fluffy little bit of a thing, white, with a black nose, black eyes, and black paw pads—begged me to take him home. I fell in love with the little dog and, despite his high price (which I couldn’t afford), bought him. I named the little Maltese Hobbit, because Hobbits are small, furry, cute and good natured.
Hobbit was a wonderful companion, a true lapdog, loving and cuddly, friendly to all, very smart. He was easy to housebreak, and had no bad habits, although he didn’t like to be outside in rain or snow, but then neither did I. I walked him in the morning before I left for work, and when I came home, usually around six. He had another walk at bedtime, and sometimes on my lunch hour, I would hurry home to visit with him. He was paper trained, so if he was disinclined to go out, or I was delayed at work, he wouldn’t suffer.
He slept on my bed, and I bathed him in my bathtub. When that summer I rented a house on Fire Island with friends, he accompanied me.
Shortly after we disembarked from the ferry, when I was unloading baggage, he was attacked by a German Shepherd. I was running to his rescue, when with a swipe of a paw, Hobbit scratched the much larger dog’s face and eye with his sharp little claws. The Shepherd retreated, howling, and his owner threatened me with a lawsuit. I urged him to sue. My dog weighed less than six pounds, and had to stand on his tiny hind legs to reach the much larger dog’s face. A judge or jury would laugh when David once again vanquished Goliath, just as the Fire Island witnesses to Hobbit’s self-defense had laughed. (The Shepherd, deeply humiliated, never approached Hobbit again.)
When I left New York for graduate school, I knew my schedule would be demanding, and that I might have difficulty spending enough time with Hobbit, so I asked my parents in North Carolina if they would keep him for a month, maybe two, until I was settled. They had met Hobbit, and knew he was little trouble, but they thought he was absurd. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t have a “real” dog. (“Real” dogs were yard dogs—collies, setters and the like.) I ignored their attitude, and so did Hobbit.
Once Hobbit was in their charge, they fell under his spell. My father, a big outdoorsy man whose favorite activity was dealing with huge construction equipment, shamelessly drove around town with Hobbit in the passenger seat of his Mercedes. They appeared to be an incompatible pair, but neither of them was much interested in making an impression on anyone.
I had left food and exercise instructions with my parents, and tried not to think about Hobbit, but I missed him terribly. September and October passed. By November I had organized my schedule to take care of him. I planned to bring Hobbit back with me to school after spending Thanksgiving with my family. But on that visit, I learned how attached my elderly father had become to my Hobbit, and I couldn’t bring myself to upset my father by removing the dog from his care.
I missed Hobbit, and he missed me. When I returned to North Carolina for visits, my dog reclaimed me, followed me everywhere, slept in my room (and secretly, on my bed). He turned his back on my parents, which hurt their feelings, but I enjoyed his company. I was horrified to see how much weight he’d gained—he resembled a fluffy white basketball, and could no longer jump up to a sofa or a lap. No one walked him. His only outings were in a car. His dog food was supplemented with junk food—ice cream, potato chips, and chocolate-covered raisins. (Yes, I know chocolate is bad for dogs.) I tried to persuade my parents to give him only the food he’d eaten when he lived with me, and I begged them not to give him chocolate, but they ignored my requests. I feared for his health, and I was right. One day when I called my parents, my father was in tears. Hobbit had toppled over, and died. The vet said it was probably heart failure.
I mourned him then, and I still feel guilty about parting with him, failing him. But at my father’s funeral, white flowers from one of his friends had been shaped into a little dog, with black eyes and nose. Everyone knew how much my father had loved and enjoyed Hobbit’s company. Even in retrospect, I think I was right to have left my pet with him. But I have never stopped missing Hobbit.
I was married and living on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village, writing about art and finance, and taking classes at the New School, when we bought Hush Puppy. Dave and I had begun our print collecting, and we spent many hours at art dealers and in museums, and I would soon apply to another graduate school, but I missed Hobbit and longed for a Maltese puppy. Dave didn’t think the puppy was a good idea. We had a cat, Pussy Willow, who stayed with a friend when we went away. But we’d have to leave a dog at a kennel—sad for the dog, and worrisome for us. And he’d be alone if I was in school all day. (Pussy Willow would not be much of a companion for him—she mostly ignored him).
I continued to pine for a puppy, and one Saturday morning we bought Hush Puppy. He looked a lot like Hobbit, but he had a very different personality. Dave had planned to make him a floor dog—no sofas or sharing our bed. But Hush Puppy had other plans.
His first night on Cornelia Street he lay quietly at Dave’s feet, while we sat on a soft cushiony sofa. All seemed well until we got up to go to bed. Hush Puppy had eaten the cuffs off Dave’s trousers! He was quick to let us know what he liked and disliked, and he did not intend to be a floor dog.
A struggle began. The New York Times arrived through a slot in the door with a loud bang. Dave and Hush Puppy raced to get it—Dave wanted to read it, Hush Puppy to destroy it. He was more aggressive and more demanding than Hobbit had been, and stubborn. He was difficult to housebreak, and we had to hire an outside expert to make it happen.
But he was also delightful—full of life and love, energetic, affectionate. One of my favorite memories of Hush Puppy is his excited lope down the middle of Cornelia Street after a big snowfall. His joy was so evident, it made me recall when as a child, I felt that way about snow.
We settled the travel issue by taking him with us to most of the places we went. He was a great traveler. When we took him to a house we’d rented in Mexico, he met a cat that was very different from gentle Pussy Willow. The Mexican cat hid in a hedge and would pounce on him, or sock him with a paw when he walked by. This was his first hostile cat experience, but not his last. After his Mexican experience, he continued to ignore Pussy Willow, but all other cats were the enemy.
Hush Puppy accompanied us to our North Carolina beach house—he loved the beach, chasing the waves and foam, and ghost crabs, but he couldn’t handle the spiral staircase to the second floor in the house, and sat sadly, watching Pussy Willow run up and down the steps, while he waited for one of us to carry him up or down. We owned the house for years, but he never learned to use those steps.
When we moved uptown from the Village, Pussy Willow was no longer with us, but Hush Puppy didn’t seem to miss her, nor did he miss the Village. We tried to have him walked by one of the midtown group walkers but he hated it—hid under the bed when it was time for him to join the group. He continued to take strong positions on nearly everything, and we usually gave in.
When Hush Puppy was about 13, he lost his eyesight and his hearing. We nursed him along, but his quality of life had sharply declined. He still enjoyed his meals, and seemed to like our company, but we had to watch him constantly when he was outside, and he nearly drowned when he fell into a swimming pool. Then he became senile. He would run around frantically in search of something—what, we didn’t know. We knew we were keeping him with us selfishly, and he was gently put to sleep. But we were very sad, and we still miss him.
After Hush Puppy died, I was advised by friends not to get a new dog for six months. I ignored their advice, and immediately called Maltese breeders, asking if they had a male puppy ready to leave his mother. Bev, a breeder on Long Island, had two. I rushed out to Long Island, and there they were, an identical pair of white fluff balls, charging around the room, attacking everything in sight.
I hated to separate them, but Bev urged me to take just one puppy; she said I’d never know which one had made the puddle, and it would be difficult to train two. (Recently, a friend with three puppies told me training them was impossible).
Truffle came home with me when he was ten weeks old, although it’s usually at least twelve weeks before Maltese puppies can leave their mothers. But both Truffle and his brother were stealing their mother’s food, and mom was ready to part with them. Bev was ready to let him go. He was lonesome and cried the first few nights, but soon settled down.
We were smart about housebreaking Truffle. We had bought a new apartment, and we planned to stay in the old place until Truffle learned about piddle pads. The old carpet took a few hits, but Truffle was a quick study, and by the time we were in our new space, there were few accidents, then none.
Truffle’s arrival coincided with our decision to buy a vacation home on the French Riviera. Truffle made his first trip to France when he was less than six months old. Delta Airlines was very dog friendly on their overnight flight to Nice, and Truffle quickly adjusted to eight hours in a carrier tucked under the seat in the front of us, rewarded with a breakfast bribe when he arrived.
Although the airline rules limited dogs to one per cabin, Delta was forgiving. This was both good and bad. We saw as many as four dogs at a time in our cabin, and some passengers let their dogs escape the carrier confines. Truffle was highly offended, and told the world about it, when another passenger dog visited unexpectedly and woke him up in the middle of the night.
France and Truffle got on well together. We loved taking him to restaurants, where he was always served a dish of water and a tidbit. He accompanied Dave on his morning drive to the newsstand, enjoying the sights and the breeze in our VW convertible. They were probably too conspicuous. A policeman pulled them over once, and gave Dave a lecture, saying the dog must sit on his own seat, not in the driver’s lap. He went with us to the beach and the outdoor markets, where children and old ladies rushed over to pet him, and tell him how cute he was.
We traveled all over Europe with Truffle, even to England where the quarantine laws made a visit difficult. We’d drive across France to Calais, see a vet there to get Truffle his special shot for Britain, board the ferry for Dover, where on arrival a special customs agent would scan Truffle’s neck for his microchip ID (installed by the vet in our French village) and check his papers—and the three of us would drive on to London, where Truffle attracted the usual attention.
We spent the summer of 2003—the year of the great heat wave—in Europe. Forests burned all around us in France, and the seventeenth-century house we rented near Oxford (where we were in summer school) acted as an oven. The only a/c was in our little VW. Truffle learned to associate cool with cars, and would try to get into the British Post delivery truck when it arrived with the daily mail—or any other vehicle.
As we aged together, our overseas travel slowed down, and Palm Springs replaced the Riviera. Truffle crossed America with us to our California winter refuge, and was our constant companion. He enjoyed the open doors of our Palm Springs house—easy access to and from our garden. On our winter 2012 visit, Truffle moved very slowly, and spent more time asleep on the warm paths around our house, but he always rose to chase our resident road runners. But soon after our return to New York, he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. When he stopped eating, we knew the end had come. For his sake and ours, our vet put him to permanent sleep. But we still miss him.
Once again, I called Bev, Truffle’s breeder, and asked if she had a male puppy ready to take home. She had one—she’d have more in a few months she said, but we didn’t want to wait. I requested pictures of the available pup, was enchanted by his photo, and we bought him over the phone.
Bev had moved to Pennsylvania and Dave and I drove the three hours to pick him up. He was, and is, the cutest dog I’ve ever seen. He weighed less than three pounds then, and is expected to be very small, even when he’s grown. He’s lively, loving, playful, and adored by all who meet him. His presence got us through the deep sadness we experienced after Truffle’s death. He continues to amuse and entertain us, and is quick to jump in a lap to make sure we know he hasn’t forgotten us.
A dear friend once said that God made a mistake when He gave dogs such short lives. He should have made the dogs live long lives and outlive us. It is truly sad to lose a dog—such a perfect friend. Coleman’s Dolly is a memorial to the dogs we have loved and lost. May Dolly live a very long life!